When I was going on my annual retreat this past December, an SND friend gave me a book saying, “You might enjoy this.” The book was The Diary of Jesus Christ by Bill Cain, SJ. I confess, I was not drawn to the title. I tend to avoid books that put a lot of words into Jesus’ mouth that aren’t in scripture. But I thanked my friend, and tucked it into my suitcase.
Two days into retreat, I thought I’d give the book a try. I saw that the forward was written by Greg Boyle, SJ, the author of Tattoos on the Heart, an incredible book. (I wrote about that book on my blog in 2013. You can access that blog by going to the search box in the upper right side panel and typing in “Tattoos on the Heart”). Then I read the first chapter of Cain’s book—and I was instantly and delightfully “blown away.” I’ll share the first chapter with you, and then say a few more things about the book.
In chapter one we meet Jesus (Joshua) as a nine-year-old boy. At that age, he says, he wanted to be a rabbi. His motivation, however, wasn’t too spiritual. “Carpentry looked like a lot of hard work,” he says. But there was a problem with his wish to be a rabbi: their particular village rabbi never looked happy. In fact, Jesus thinks the happiest man in the village is the baker named Osiris. Everyday he would carry a big yoke on his shoulders from which hung two large baskets filled with all kinds of breads. He went from house to house cheerfully peddling his breads. Osiris always made people laugh—especially the women, including Jesus’ mother, Mary.
The baker, though, was a foreigner, an Egyptian. Although he was treated decently most of the year, at Passover time, “he was looked upon with suspicion.” One day, Jesus asks him, “Osiris, why did you keep us in slavery?” He replies, “Do I look five hundred years old that I kept you in slavery?”
Jesus says, “You know what I mean. Why did your people keep my people in slavery?” The baker replies “bitterly”: “Go ask your God why he killed our children to set you free. Go ask if that was fair.”
The two of them sit side by side in silence for a while. That’s when Jesus realizes, “I had no future as a rabbi.” He says to Osiris, “I don’t think I’m a very good Jew. I don’t think I could believe in a God who kills children.”
And Osiris says, “Joshua, I don’t think I’m a very good Egyptian. I don’t want to be a part of any people that could keep slaves.”
Again, silence. Then Osiris says, “Let’s not be sad. Put on the yoke and let’s sell the bread together.” Jesus dons the yoke and is shocked by how heavy it is. Osiris encourages him, “Once you sell the bread, it gets lighter.” And the two of them go through the village, “laughing and chatting” and selling bread.
The last two sentences in the chapter touched me deeply. Says Jesus: “That’s when I knew what I really wanted to be. A baker.” My mind instantly jumped ahead to images of Jesus telling the parable of the grain of wheat, comparing the Kingdom of God to yeast, feeding the thousands on the hillside, and breaking the bread at the Last Supper.
In this imaginative book we see Jesus interacting with his parents. Mary, a practical, down-to-earth woman, always sang songs to Jesus when he was growing up. One in particular he liked, a song about the mighty being being cast down from their thrones and the hungry being filled with good things. At twelve, Jesus sees people begging for food in the marketplace and is troubled. One day he gets an idea. He sings his mother’s song loud and clear, and people toss coins into his hat. With that money, he buys food for the hungry around him. But one day, a Roman soldier hears his song, picks him up, pins him against the wall, and demands to know, “Who wrote that song? Tell me who he is!” It is then that Jesus realizes how subversive his mother’s song was, how threatening to the mighty Romans who ruled his country. Later, when he gets home, he asks his mother, “Who are you?” And then adds, “Are you the Messiah?”
I loved Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene. She is not Jesus’ lover (as some have portrayed her), but she is one of his best friends—and best advisors. It is she who helps Jesus select his twelve apostles. She knows men, she tells him, and warns him about Judas Iscariot and even Peter. But after Jesus picks the twelve, he senses that Mary is very upset about something. Later, and in private, he asks her if something is wrong. And then adds, “Are you angry that I didn’t choose you as one of the twelve?” She says, “I am angry that it didn’t cross your mind… And, to be fair, I am angry that it didn’t cross mine.”
The book tells the familiar Gospel stories in fresh and imaginative ways. It offers new insights into who Jesus is and what it means to be his disciple in today’s world. I found myself saying, “This is the Jesus I want to know—and love better!” Lent is a good time to get to know Jesus better—by pondering the Gospels or maybe even a book that focuses on him. Besides Cain’s book, I suggest these: Jesus: A Gospel Portrait by Donald Senior; Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time by Marcus Borg; Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI; He Was One of Us by Rien Poorvliet; The Catholic Companion to Jesus by Sr. Kathleen Glavich; Jesus: A Gospel Portrait by Henri Nouwen; and the book I’m going to read this Lent Consider Jesus by Elizabeth Johnson.
Do you have any suggestions for meeting Jesus again this Lent—any books, films, music, poetry, art? I invite you to share some of the things that have helped you “to meet Jesus—again.”
I wish each of you a blessed Lenten journey! May we all come to know and love Jesus more and more during this holy season!
PS: I thoroughly enjoyed my phone calls with the three winners of the contest two weeks ago: Bonnie (Yarmouth, ME), Susan (Pittsburgh, PA), and Maggie (Ventura, CA). I received so much from these “chats” with “real readers” of this blog that I hope to have another raffle one of these days!
I’m offering three videos for you. The first is Michael Card’s song, “The Nazarene.” I chose the version with the lyrics shown on a plain brown background so we can focus on the words… The second is a 19 minute interview with Bill Cain conducted by Robert Ellsberg, head of Orbis Books and author of All Saints. He also writes the “Blessed Among Us” reflection in Give Us this Day. Being in the presence of these two “Blessed” men—one a priest the other a layman…and both great writers—is well worth your 19 minutes… And for the third video, in view of current world events—especially in Ukraine—I’m offering St. Francis’ Prayer for Peace.
“The Nazarene”: The line that moves me is this: Jesus “was so unlike any other man and yet so much like me.”
Robert Ellsberg’s interview with Bill Cain, SJ:
As we pray for peace in our world, let us remember that peace begins with each one of us. Here is St. Francis’ prayer, “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” sung (appropriately) by a young girl.
I welcome your comments below on anything related to today’s reflection…words… pictures…videos… and any additions. Thank you!